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  • Writer's pictureMindy Roth

Should You Take an Oral Nutritional Supplement?

Updated: Oct 12, 2023

This is one of the common questions that I get from clients. Should I take supplements? In short, maybe! It all depends on you! I am not a dietitian that recommends supplements to every client, but when used appropriately, there can be benefits of taking them. However, without proper instruction, there can be side effects of taking supplements too. Let’s break down some supplements and the potential risks and benefits of taking them.

supplement pills

Types of Oral Nutritional Supplements: There are many different kinds of supplements, as you may know from wandering your local pharmacy, but the most common are vitamin and mineral supplements. Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients that our bodies require for proper functioning. The purpose of a supplement is to provide these nutrients in a larger amount, to treat a deficiency, increase absorption, or provide these nutrients if we cannot get enough through our diet. Other nutrients from foods are also found in supplement forms such as phytonutrients, amino acids, or food components such as omega-3 fatty acids. Herbal Supplements are another popular type of nutritional supplement. These are different as our body does not necessarily need them, but these nutrients may provide benefits due to their high concentration of specific bioactive compounds.

Benefits: I split the benefits of supplements into three different categories. Below are some of the benefits of taking a supplement

Treating Health Conditions: Certain food compounds may help treat or reduce the symptoms of various health conditions. For instance, an increase in omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to reduce inflammation and support healthy cholesterol levels. Treating Deficiencies: While it is possible to get all our micronutrient needs from the foods we eat with a balanced diet, deficiencies are quite common. For example, vitamin B12 deficiency is common in vegetarians and vegans since they do not eat meat proteins – where B12 is commonly found.

Support Health and Wellness Goals: We do not always need a medical diagnosis for a supplement to benefit our health. For example, pre and probiotics improve digestion, and melatonin helps for better sleep!

Potential Risks: Even though supplements can be beneficial, they are rarely used appropriately. Many people chose to take supplements because they heard from their friends, family, and recommendations from TV that they should be taking them. This can be problematic because supplements do not come without risk!

Mislabeling: The FDA is not required to test vitamins, so sometimes, you may not be getting what you think. Some supplements only contain a small amount of what is on the label. Even worse, they may be tainted with prescription drugs, allergens, or heavy metals.

Drug Interactions: Some supplements do not mix with other medications or even foods. This is especially risky if you are taking multiple supplements that may interact with each other. Counter-intuitive to Your Needs and Goals: You should know why you are taking the supplement and how much to take. Especially if you are following a specific diet, is you exercise a lot or not at all, and if you smoke or drink.

Overdosing: More is not always better! Especially when it comes to fat-soluble vitamins that can build up in the body. Many supplements provide WAY more than the recommended dosage, which can be dangerous. Vitamin and mineral supplementation is supposed to complement a healthy diet, not replace food! And for vitamins that are not fat-soluble, well, you are probably just peeing that expensive pill out of your system!

What do I recommend? Before you start taking any supplement, make sure you do plenty of research, talk with your doctor and/or dietitian to see what would fit best for you! There is more and more research available that discusses the efficacy of different supplement companies and the risks and benefits of each.


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